FULLERTON - In a back-and-forth match, UC Santa Cruz survived Hope International 3-2 (25-20, 23-25, 25-19, 23-25,15-4) in the opener of their two-match series.
UCSC improved to 9-3 in their first win over Hope (10-8) since 2012.
"We're feeling mainly relieved because we executed our game plan thoroughly and made excellent adjustments as the game went on," said head coach Paul Leon. "Not only was this our first win against Hope International since my senior year in 2012, but it was our first game 5 win this season."
Game two was similar with neither team able to gain a foothold. A Lake Merchen kill gave the Slugs their biggest lead at 16-11. However the Royals came back with four straight points to cut the lead to one. Nick Johnson's kill tied it at 19. With the score tied at 23, Hope took the set on a Nicolas Bilinski kill and a block from Zach Greene and Enrique Lopez.
Game three had the Slugs open a 17-9 lead and hold off any Hope comeback. UCSC hit .400 on the set and held the hosts to just .147 in the frame.
In the fourth however, it was Hope's turn to open a big lead. The Royals went up 16-11. The Slugs came back and held off two game points to get within 1 at 23-24. Charles Belvin's kill ended it and let the hosts tie the match at two.
In the deciding fifth set, UCSC cruised to a 9-0 start courtesy of five Hope hitting errors and an ace from Cody Hiroto. The Slugs hit .700 in the deciding set, finishing the match with kills from Raymond Cascio and Jake Howard.
"Our guys had put a lot of focus into starting Game Five strong. I'm glad to see their hard work pay off," Leon said.
Merchen led the Slugs with 17 kills and a .308 hitting percentage. Howard added 16 kills while Kyle Donohoe had 13. Cameron Bardeau and Ryan McLaughlin each had 16 digs, while McLaughlin tied his season-high with 50 assists.
The teams play again Sunday afternoon in Fullerton.